How to Help a Baby Bird
I was on my front porch last summer when I realized that there was a cute and fuzzy baby bird sitting in the middle of my yard under one of our big trees. I stopped what I was doing and immediately got very still and quiet. I didn't want to scare the cute little thing. Was he alone? Was he in danger?
I watched a little longer and saw that a male and female cardinal kept coming down to land next to him. It was as if they were trying to teach him how to fly. They'd fly down to the ground and then fly back up to a branch or the nearby power line. They'd take turns flying back down to him again. The little tyke seemed to be trying hard but never quite got off the ground. Despite his parents' efforts, he ended up kind of hopping across the yard - and that was it.
I began to get a little nervous for him. What if he had fallen out of the nest? It's not like with cats and dogs that can pick their young up by the back of the neck. The parents were doing the best they could without being able to actually move him themselves. I realized that the baby bird was making his way towards a bush at the corner of my house. They seemed to be moving him to a more secure location. I watched and waited and, of course, ran for my computer.
What should I do? Was there any way I could help? According to the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRAwildlife.org), my baby bird was most likely a fledgling (with some fuzzy feathers) still being cared for by his parents. Hopping around on the ground is expected and, as long as he wasn't in immediate danger, I was ok to leave him alone. If he were in danger, I could have put him in a bush or on a tree limb and let his parents handle it from there. And if his parents weren't anywhere to be found, I could look up and call a wildlife rehabilitator in my area.
But what should you do if you find your own featherless or sick baby bird?
Here are some guidelines from the NWRA:
If the bird is sick or injured, call a wildlife rehabilitator. If you can't get in touch with one, there are some things you can do to help in the meantime. First, get some gloves. They are more for your protection than the bird's. The bird could scratch or peck you or could have parasites or germs that you just don't want. Then get a lightweight cloth to put over the bird. Next, pick it up.
Put it on a soft cloth in a box or paper bag. Make sure the box or bag has air holes. Keep the baby warm, if necessary, by filling a plastic bag or container with hot/warm water, wrapping it with a cloth and putting it next to the bird. Close the lid of the box or top of the bag and wait to hear from the wildlife rehabilitator.
While you're waiting, make sure you remember where you found the bird so the rehabilitator will know where it should be released. Also, don't handle the baby or give it food or water. He may be awfully cute and pathetic looking but leave him alone as much as possible. And definitely keep him away from kids and pets.
If the bird has no feathers but looks healthy, look for a nest. If you can place the baby back in the nest do so and wait for the parents to show up. If they don't, give a local wildlife rehabilitator a call so they can help further.
If you can't find a nest, you can try to fashion a substitute. Line a small basket or plastic tub with dry grass or pine needles, put the baby bird in it, and put it back in the original tree. If the parents show up, you're good to go. If not, again, try to find a wildlife rehabilitator.
And finally, some important things to remember and myths to dispel -
YOU CAN TOUCH A BABY BIRD AND HIS NEST! Despite popular belief, a human touch will not keep the parents away. Bottom line, bird parents want their babies to be safe just like human ones. In the end, they're not going to be picky about how the saving comes about.
BABY BIRDS DON'T ALWAYS NEED HELP! Just like the baby bird in my yard, when the parents are nearby and the babies are healthy and moving, you probably don't need to intervene. Believe it or not, birds are accustomed to and capable of surviving in the wild without human intervention. If the baby is not in immediate danger, give him a chance to correct the situation himself. He and his parents probably know more about what's going on and what can be done about it than you do. Sometimes it's better not to interfere at all.
If you do find it necessary to contact a wildlife rehabilitator, you can do so online at this site: www.wildlife-international.org.
Or you can call the NWRA at 320-230-9920.
Thanks to the NWRA's site for helping me know what to do with my baby bird.